|Taken during the Tuesday Night, April 22 North Carolina Republican Senate Primary debate. From left, Pastor Mark Harris, Nurse Heather Grant, Physician Greg Brannon, and State Legislator Thom Tillis.|
The Republicans vying to take on North Carolina's Junior Senator Kay Hagan (D) met last night in a debate format for the first time prior to the May 6 primary. Besides a few barbs thrown at the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads backed Thom Tillis (R), the event likely did little to shift opinion in the largely unsettled primary. But there was one claim made during the closing arguments of First Baptist Church of Charlotte Pastor Mark Harris that sounded dubious coming from someone who is largely (73%) unknown outside of his congregation.
Consider the tweet below from debate viewer Jonathan Kappler, Director of UNC's State Government Relations:
in closing statement, Harris said only 1 candidate beats Sen Hagan in the latest poll outside the margin of error (him) #NCSenDebate
— Jonathan Kappler (@jonathankappler) April 22, 2014
The poll referred to by Pastor Harris was conducted by SurveyUSA at the end of March, and showed Sen. Hagan trailing Harris 47-43%, more than she trailed anyone else, though NOT outside the poll's 2.6% margin of error (that would have required Harris lead Hagan by at least 49-43%). But SurveyUSA isn't the only pollster to find Harris leading the incumbent Senator by a larger margin than the rest of the field. Local partisan pollster Public Policy Polling also found Harris with a four point lead against Hagan, better than all but one primary opponent, (but again, inside the survey's 3.6% margin of error). For what it's worth, the establishment-backed Tillis only led Hagan 46-45% in the SurveyUSA poll, and actually trailed Hagan 43-41% per PPP.
Consider this chart of the various GOP candidates performance against Kay Hagan in the two North Carolina Senate polls conducted over the last month. As you can see, Pastor Harris has had a pretty strong run as of late:
Harris performs the best against Hagan as compared to the rest of the field in each of the last two surveys. But despite his general election polling success, he's yet to crack the margin of error, and he's yet to break through as a top candidate in the GOP primary. The PPP survey referenced above puts him in fourth place with 11% behind 'not sure' (34%), Thom Tillis (18%), and Greg Brannon (15%). The SurveyUSA poll looks similar, finding 'undecided' leading the field with 34%, Tillis in second with 23%, Brannon in third with 15%, and Harris again in fourth with 11%.
At least as of today, Harris looks like the strongest general election candidate against Senator Kay Hagan. The question is whether or not he can get Republican primary voters to recognize this fact in time to at least get him into the runoff. Though for the record (and a correction from earlier), NO Republican candidate for North Carolina Senate has led Kay Hagan outside of a poll's margin of error as of late.